Organization Design Blog
Organization design blog
'They're building a wall
Between water and land
So we can eat fruit
And they can eat sand'
I stayed a few nights at a hotel the other week that bills itself as 'Eco friendly, stylish and cozy, carefully designed by professional designers, creates a unique chill-out ambience to make you feel happy and relaxed. Set right on the unspoiled white sandy beach, lined with palm trees and washed by the warm, turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, it's a perfect gateway from every-day life.' What I experienced was all of that and it was glorious.
And then I remarked on the fact that a high stone wall surrounded the hotel. From my room I could see clearly the hotel side of the wall – beautifully tended gardens with watered bougainvillea, electric night lighting along the paths, and carefully positioned pieces of sculpture.
I could also see on the other side of the wall arid scrubland, a well-populated village with no sanitation, no electricity, a single well for all the villagers, and a ramshackle collection of small mud and thatch one-room dwellings. 88% of that country's population lives on less than $2 USD per day. My breakfast (with fruit) was $7 USD. I felt uneasy with my privilege.
On Monday I was in a one-day workshop where the theme for the day was "A Good Life" and the purpose of the day was 'to collectively immerse ourselves into high-level questions that guide our work and thinking: How can design and architecture help shape "a good life"? What is our perspective on the future of performance? The future of health and wellbeing? The future of community? The future of learning?'
This was a difficult day and theme for me because over the previous few days I'd been involved in the sadness and distress following the fact that 'Alice ... committed suicide on the 26th Sept 2013. She had been exhausted by the housing and harassment issues she faced over a period of years and the poor/negative response from the authorities. These circumstances are to be considered at an inquest to be held in the near future.
She was an amazingly beautiful, wise and strong woman who despite her very difficult personal circumstances over recent years, gave all her energy to caring for others around her and all those who face injustice in the world. Alice was especially a proud feminist and her work in this area will be continued by all those she inspired, laughed with and loved.' The costs for Alice's most basic funeral were raised by donation.
"How can we get people more engaged, more productive, and happier at work? Is technology part of the problem – and could it also be part of the solution? Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the full, empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open, collaborative and flexible working culture. "
So runs the intro to the RSA Animate Re-imagining work that just came out. It's a great video that presents in a nutshell the issues and opportunities around mobile working, workplaces, work, and technology . It was timely that I came across it because I've been working on a presentation that I'm co-giving at the Las Vegas Corenet conference. The session's title is Keep Moving: The Rise of the Mobile Worker .
The session description reads 'The world of work moves at lightning speed, so why should workers stand still? Thanks to ever-more-sophisticated technology, workers are becoming increasingly mobile. In this session, a manager/consultant, champion of mobile working and a mobile worker herself, addresses key concepts in developing an effective mobile workforce. Specifically, she'll explain how HR, IT and CRE can work together to create a seamless transition and achieve optimal results.'
Note from me to financial controllers/corporate decision makers/IT guys (July 13 2013)
All – I would like to try out, for one month, being an Anybot. Basically this is a remote controlled webcam/video conferencing robot that would be based in head office and linked to my laptop in DC or wherever else I am. Using it I can join meetings in a more dynamic way – like see who is talking, ramble around the office, chat to people in the hallway, and generally feel more connected to the office than I do currently.
I think we will see robots like this being increasingly used in offices and clearly they have significant workplace implications not just in terms of logistics – where are they charged and stored, how are they maintained, etc. but also cultural and social implications – how easy is it to relate to a work colleague who is a video screen on a segueway? How effective are they in helping people feel and stay connected? How much can they save in travel costs?
Verizon is using similar robots in classrooms for students who can't physically get to schools.
Is 347 emails a lot to answer in one week? I don't know but that's what I did. I get about 200 per day – a lot of which I just either read because they're subscriptions to info or ones that don't really need any reply beyond things like 'thanks' or 'good to hear'. The 347 required me to think carefully, for example, reviewing someone's document, working out how I can do a joint presentation with someone and have it come across as seamless teamwork (I'm working on three of those at the moment each with a different person), responding to a request for information which means hunting through stuff.
I got curious about emails this week because various things caused me to think that we've got stuck in the notion that emails are not part of 'the work'. It reminds me of the staff room in the college I used to teach in where we would say 'teaching would be great if it weren't for the students.' Wouldn't it be less stressful all round if we accepted that the way a lot of the work gets done is via emails and other types of social media channel and then designed our lives and our work accepting the reality of emails, IM, tweets, etc. etc? They are not going to go away at least in the immediate although they may change form.
I liked the nugget in the Lucy Kellaway series on The History of Office Life that mentioned the horror people felt at the introduction of the telephone which they thought would constantly interrupt things. 'New technology including the telephone, telegraph, typewriters, adding machines, and even filing cabinets revolutionized office work in the late 19th century. In particular the telephone was looked on suspiciously in the UK. Britain's chief post office engineer, Sir William Preece, told a House of Commons committee : "I have one in my office, but more for show. If I want to send a message, I employ a boy to take it."'
This time last year I was getting geared up to do a TedX talk on the Future of Work. Now I am gearing up to do a Corenet talk on Keep Moving: The Rise of the Mobile Worker. As last year I'm wondering why what seemed a good idea at the time now seems like a big challenge. The good thing is that I'm not presenting alone so there are two of us working on the presentation. I'm presenting the overview sections, and John Risteter from Huntington Bank is presenting his case study. We're being guided in how we set about developing the presentation by Nancy Duarte's excellent book – Resonate on how to develop presentations – it's become my bedtime reading companion(!) She also gave a compelling webinar, Mastering Remote Presentations: A Guide to Persuasive Conversations which I got tips from that helped me develop the webinar I gave last week Collaboration, conversation or chat, knowing the difference, which discusses mobility from the angle of collaboration. It's now freely available to listen to here.
What Duarte says is that successful presentations first establish 'the big idea' and then structure around that. So, what can we draw on to develop our big idea around mobility? Well I'm a fully mobile worker, and I've done a lot of work on workplace mobility programs. Currently I have the intriguing role of remotely co-ordinating an internal mobility program that we've established back in the corporate office. I wrote about the first week of it in a previous blog and we're about to start week four. John (my co-presenter) is Manager of Strategic Space Planning and comes at mobility from the corporate real estate perspective. We spent a morning together the other week collecting up first thoughts (and having a laugh doing so). The big idea however did not emerge clear cut in this initial meeting on the topic. But looking over our notes and then having a couple of follow up phone calls it has taken shape. Our big idea is that managing the rise in mobility means managing a multitude of competing and interwoven tensions.
On Thursday I found myself sitting in LiquidSpace at least that's who I booked through. LiquidSpace is a clearing house for workspace hirable for the hour, half day, day or longer. It's 'built to help you find a better space to meet or work from a marketplace of thousands of workspaces and meeting rooms'. It's a kind of dating service for workspace. Organizations that have available space to rent post it and people who are looking for space then register to rent it.
More info told me that I could 'Book on the go or plan ahead to work for an hour or for a day. Browse, reserve, and check in to hip co-working venues, high-end business centers, handy hotel lobbies or libraries. Find the right workspace wherever you are, whenever you need it'
I am in the category of planning ahead. I looked on Monday and booked for Thursday. Running down the availability of liquid space in my city (Washington DC) I opted for what looked like a 'hip co-working venue'. I have had my fill this year of 'handy hotel lobbies'. Canvas.Co/work (as they designate themselves) is 'A Washington, DC co-working community; designed for creatives, freelancers, independents and start-ups to be an inspiring environment in which to work and collaborate. Boasting 6,000 square feet of open-space, completely custom designed, from floor to ceiling. We believe that creativity comes from inspiration and that inspiration starts with your surroundings; you won't find any carpets, water-coolers or Ikea here.' So what's not inspirational about carpets I wonder? Could I run a workshop on water coolers as creativity inhibitors?
Would you be willing to nudge a co-worker towards wellness by saying something like: 'Let's take the stairs instead of the elevators'? In our action learning set last week the topic was developing a healthy workforce. The plan was to discuss how designers of workplace could be encouraging and enabling movement and active-work to enhance health and productivity by providing space for walking meetings, asking questions about standing vs. sitting at desks, and considering healthier modes of getting to work. We were asked to ponder three questions prompted from the pre-read material. (This is listed at the end of this blog).
1. How much is it 'ok' for employers to 'nudge' their employees to better health? E.g. via walks to printers, etc.
2. Is employee health a US preoccupation tied to healthcare costs or is it really about business performance?
3. How can workplace contribute to workplace health in the absence of a 'wellness program'?
As we assembled, one snag immediately hit. Only two out of eight or so attendees had read the pre-read (and they were the discussion leads). In my experience this is common. In most situations, people do not read the pre-reads.
This lack of pre-read participation made me wonder whether it was due to lack of time/will/interest or something else. We constantly read about the torrent of information that we are expected to deal with every day in our organizational life. Surely this is detrimental to health and wellness? And a number of articles and books suggest this is so.
Space as a strategic asset was last week's question. I got it three times in different ways but they are focused on the same idea – how do we know what space we'll need in the future, and then how do we use it to get best possible performance from the space and the people in it? Here they are:
1. In the last week we've been approached on the subject of domestic companies (in China) looking to make significant change to how they use space as a strategic asset of the business.
2. Wondering if you have any info or articles on how companies are responding to contraction and expansion in their real estate portfolios? Efficiency and cost effectiveness – while also maintaining great environments?
3. A client is looking for benchmarking metrics which would tell him at what point in eroding away his vacant space (flexible/soft/surge space) should he look at options to build or lease more space or look at significant consolidation.
The interesting things about the questions are the challenges and opportunities they imply. Although framed as workplace/workspace issues they are also about the design of the organization and the external trends and context that the business operation has to respond to as it develops and delivers its business strategy.
I've had an instructive almost-three-days with my mother this weekend. She's 96 and lives independently in her own flat with no household support beyond a young woman who comes to clean her place for 2 hours once every two weeks. She seems to do well enough in an environment that she's used to. The Tesco metro is across the street, she is close to bus stops, the temperature in the house is set to maintain a steady agreeable warmth, and so on.
Nevertheless there are things she can't do well: open screw top jars, change light bulbs, bend to get things from the bottom of the fridge, walk outside without the aid of a cane or a walker, see small print, or hear in the presence of any background noise.
She wanted to visit Ireland where she was born. And that's what we did. Although I have spent time with her traveling (we went for the weekend to Paris last year) this time I was acutely aware of the design aspects of aging and started to wonder about this for both older people in the workforce and for older people who have left the workforce.
Collaboration is one of those frequently used words. People talk about 'collaboration space', wanting to have a 'collaborative culture', and encouraging 'collaboration'. But when it comes to defining and measuring 'collaboration', there's somewhat of a pause. What is the business outcome of collaboration? Is it a new product or service, enhanced productivity, greater process efficiency, happier employees, more satisfied staff, or something else altogether. I haven't yet found an organization that is crystal clear on what it wants to achieve at an organization, work-team, or individual employee level from 'collaboration'.
Neither do we have much clarity on what contributes to collaboration. Is it the design of the workplace, the technology used, the cultural attributes of an organization, the type of work that is being done, or all of these or some/none of these?
So when this week, at my place of employment, we kicked off the first of a series of four action learning sessions the opening topic was 'collaboration'. 'Action learning is a dynamic process that involves a small group of people looking at real problems and opportunities, while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit each group member, the group itself and the organization as a whole'. We have set up the group (of about 15 people) with the primary objective of developing some tools and approaches that support our clients in making actionable connections between organization design and workplace design to increase organizational performance. A secondary objective is to try out these tools and approaches on ourselves as we transition to new office space.
In a few weeks (43 days according to the website countdown clock) I am speaking at the Talent Management Summit 2013. This is billed as asking the right questions on talent management:
- Is your business prepared for the way we'll work in the future?
- Does your organization have the right people to succeed in the future business landscape?
- What are the talent requirements of tomorrow's business and how can we meet them?
- Much has been written about the need for a mobile, agile workforce, but what does this mean in practice, and how can we measure it?
and 'will consider the questions from a broader perspective – taking in the economic and political context and emerging macro trends for society and business ... as talent is no longer an issue confined to the HR department but is rising to the top of the agenda for senior executives across the board. ... This reflects the importance of talent for competitive advantage in today's global knowledge economy.'
The effect of the countdown clock was to focus my attention on the questions and to make me wonder what I'm going to say. Then I remembered that in my recently published book Organizational Health
I have a whole chapter on business trends and fads and included in the discussion a list asking readers whether they thought something was a trend to act on or a fad to ignore. The list reads:
Having said a couple of weeks ago that I wasn't going to comment on the Marissa Mayer thing about teleworking I now find I am. Someone sent me an email asking for a blog piece. His exact words 'There has been so much controversy about the subject in the past few months (because of Yahoo and others), it would be interesting getting your take on the pros and cons. Perhaps you already have something written'.
Unfortunately I didn't have much already written on the topic. Although I did write a blog on my portable office and I see from a quick search of my site that I wrote several blogs using the word 'teleworking' during 2010 which suggests to me that I must have a take on it.
So here goes. Drawing on my experience - I have worked on a large scale project to introduce teleworking to an organization and I am a full time teleworker - I've mustered nine takes about it which are neither pros nor cons, just observations. Before I get to those – a tenth over-arching take on it is that teleworking is an individual and organizational performance variable and cannot be considered in isolation from other factors.
Google's St Patrick's Day graphic made me smile this morning. It's of Irish dancers and they're dancing. I'm also amused by the animated emoticons I can send on Skype. My favorite is the bear hug one. It makes the thousands of miles that separate me from my daughters feel less as I send them the bear hug. What's fun about things like that is that they are simple expressions of cheerfulness and I've spent time this week thinking about celebration and fun at work.
I've reached the section in the new book I'm writing where I give the instruction to 'Celebrate success' as you go through an organization design transition. But now I'm not sure whether that's what I want to write about. I think as well as celebrating success – which seems more spasmodic than frequent – ramping up the everyday fun aspects of transitioning would be good. We tend to focus on 'issues' on what's not working, and the drudge aspects. But a week of reading stuff on positive psychology and how various workplaces work (or not) suggest that everyday fun and keeping spirits up is what makes things work better than addressing 'issues' in a po-faced, and sometimes punitive way.
I am in the intriguing position of writing a change management point of view paper, methodology and toolkit that doesn't involve the words 'change' or 'management' or any combinations of the two. So far, I've done a couple of presentations on the proposed new approach, and had several conversations with people in various roles, industries, and generations on whether it has any merit. Like me they think it has but the challenge is converting it to something crisp, actionable, and simple enough to grasp. So far I've had two goes at writing the paper and after 3 pages each have given up on both. My personal BS monitor points to too much consultant jargon, too high a level of concept/abstraction, and not enough to guide the organizational seller-doers let alone the actual clients.
This week a consultant sent me an email with some questions on organizational structures (aka what you see on as an organization chart). And a line manager from another organization sent different questions but on the same topic. This sparked in me the idea of answering the 10 common FAQs I get about structures – so here they are with some answers. Feel free to challenge, add, comment on.
1 What are the emerging organizational structures?
Various structures are emerging both in theoretical literature and in application. These include network structures, formal versus informal organizing structures, state capitalist structures , open source structures, (see The Rise of State Capitalism), and co-operatives (not new but gaining ground).
2 What are the models, theories and concepts that underpin these emerging structures from a technical/operational perspective?
These tend to come out of organization theory, social science, social psychology, behavioural science and economics. Theorists in the field include:
Siobhan O'Mahony from Boston University and Fabrizio Ferraro from IESE Business School (University of Navarra) have individually and together investigated, as Ferraro explains, "the emergence of novel institutions, such as Open Source Software, Sustainability Reporting and Responsible Investing, the evolution of global corporate networks and architectural changes in industries."
The first edition my book Organization Design: the Collaborative Approach was published in 2004. I've now started writing the second edition that will come out in summer 2013 (assuming I write to schedule). I find it staggering to look back and see how much has changed in a bare eight years, and from what I see the changes are continuing apace and they all have a significant impact on the way organizations function. Changes I've noted so far include:
1. Accelerating swift and wide-ranging information and communication technology (ICT) changes that are impacting organizations. Since 2004 social media has burst upon the scene, cloud computing has become the norm, and business intelligence software is getting increasingly sophisticated. All these have huge impact on the traditional organization of enterprises.
2. Increasing requirements for 'sustainability' including carbon footprint savings, 'greening' the enterprise and so on. This again requires looking at the way work is done through a new lens.
3. Intensifying demands, brought about by fiscal and political conditions, to do more for less – smarter, more efficiently, more effectively. Just look at the impact the financial crisis of 2007 - 2009 had on governments. Worldwide they were and continue to be faced with the challenge of offering better citizen services with vastly reduced budgets. No organization can keep pace with this type of demand without looking at its design.
Below is the script for the talk I planned to give at TEDX Columbus on Friday (Oct 5 2012). Inevitably, it came out somewhat differently on stage. (The videoed on-stage version will be on You Tube in the next week or so). And this is the last installment of TEDX stuff.
The poet, Ben Okri, commands the workers of the world to 're-make the world', 'delight the future', and 'create happy outcomes'. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could 'delight the future' and create happy outcomes in working for pay? Let's consider the likelihood of this and see what we would need to do to achieve that outcome.
First though let's look at what we think of as 'work'. Some think of it as paid employment because we need to earn our living, while others think of it, more generally, as an activity that requires effort. And many activities can fall into either category. For example if you do the ironing then it's unpaid 'work' and if you pay someone to do it for you it is that person's paid employment.
The focus in this discussion is on paid employment – money earned by working. I'll cover three types of work and give one example of each plus an associated trend. I'll move on to look at three age groups in the workforce, and suggest three capabilities for each that will help these workers meet their work futures confidently given that trends are not predictions and we cannot say what the future will actually be.
First, think about work in three categories, albeit overlapping ones.
• Routine work: repetitive, assembly line sorts of things
• In person work: like doctors, teachers, shop assistants
• Data manipulation: like problem solving, information analysis, coding.
Last week I was in Shanghai teaching organization design to thirty people from various national and international companies. It was an amazingly interesting workshop – I learned so much and have come back with a raft of questions to answer on approaches to organization design. Several of them are complex and very worthwhile to answer but I'm still thinking about them.
One of them is somewhat less complex but no less worthwhile to answer. It's about getting and maintaining what in the jargon is called 'business savvy'. Why were the Shanghai participants in the organization design program interested in this? Because they felt that that HR people there (in China) are not thought of as 'business' people but as 'people' people. These HR practitioners wanted to know how they could develop their own skills so that they can have credible, forward thinking business conversations with their colleagues who are running the organizations and managing the business of it.
They want to move on from the notion that all they do is recruit , train, pay people, and make sure that the organization complies with employment law. They want to be trusted as business advisors skilled at developing business growth, profitability and performance through careful attention to the 'people asset.'
Last week I wrote about the TEDx talk that I've been invited to give. And this week I've been pursuing the topic, reading many articles and research papers. As I sort, order, and mull over these and the approach I should take with the intention of arriving at a cohesive, off the cuff sounding, funny talk that fulfills the TEDx requirements I wish I'd done the improv course that since I had a half-day taster session (years ago) I keep telling myself I should do.
So far, what all this delving into the future of work has revealed is rather a lot of what might be kindly termed hot air. I'm reminded of the tarot card reading I once had where the reader advised me to take more notice of coincidences. It's an intriguing notion that comes to mind each time I'm in a 'coincidence situation' but it doesn't go anywhere. The future of work is the same as it's almost non-actionable. I can only go 'oh' or 'gosh' when, for example, I read from the World Future Society
The end of identity as we know it? It may become very easy to create a new identity (or many identities) for ourselves. All we will have to do is create new avatars in virtual reality. Those avatars will act on our behalf in real life to conduct such high-level tasks as performing intensive research, posting blog entries and Facebook updates, and managing businesses. The lines between ourselves and our virtual other selves will blur, to the point where most of us will, in essence, have multiple personalities.
In what retrospectively I feel was a fit of foolishness, a few weeks ago I agreed to do an 18 minute TEDX talk, in October, on the future of work. Since that agreement every time I have been for a run or a bike ride – i.e. those times that creativity and innovation people say spark the great idea - I've been wondering what I am going to talk about. The ingredients of all good TED talks seem to be vision, aspiration, touching personal story, comedy, memorable take away call to action, clever blend of fact, opinion, moments people can identify with, and sticking to the topic - all delivered with a gutsy charisma. It's a tall order.
The great idea has not struck as yet. Now I'm beginning to wonder if I can get by on the fact that the organizers wanted a woman to speak as they have a surfeit of male speakers. (I'm hoping that the future of work means more senior women in the workforce and that they are getting equal pay with the men).
And on Friday I got an email reminding me that I had to upload my photo and outline for my talk and thus the moment came for thought and planning. So rather than a single great idea, for the moment, I've come up with three different approaches outlined below.
This week I was in Lisbon facilitating a one-day discussion on organization culture at the Instituto Superior de Ciencias Sociais e Politicos .
The group of fifteen participants were variously PhD students, corporate employees – for the most part in HR Departments, and independent consultants so it made for a diversity of views that was delightful, and we had a lot of fun weaving our way through the nuances of culture. And just at a practical level there were differences in how we approached things.
Time is one of the cultural dimensions that we had some discussion of. The other two facilitators (we each facilitated different days of the week) had the same attitude and expectations to time that I have. We all thought that programs like this begin at the time stated (9:30 a.m.) and finish at the time stated, and the breaks are an agreed length that the participants will stick to. So the facilitators had some discussions about why this was very hard to put into practice - except for the finish time! Every day the program began later than intended – participants appearing up to 30 minutes late – and it seemed pointless beginning with only a handful of the registered people, and each break was almost twice as long as the agreed break. So what to do?
Last week I mentioned an interview with Ivor Southwood. In it he brought up the notion of workplaces as 'non-places' which, as I started to think about that, and look around the places I was in, became an intriguing idea to explore further. In the interview Southwood says that:
"Non-places is a term I came across in a book by the anthropologist Mark Augé. He was talking about transitional places, in particular places like airports, supermarkets, and motorways, etc. These, I suppose, are part of the architecture of neoliberal capitalism, in that they seem frictionless although, of course, they aren't. People with long commutes to work, for example, are always coming across glitches.
We're spending more and more time in 'non-places'. People are commuting for longer and longer times. What kind of time is that? It's sort of non-time, in a way. It's time in a non-place. What can you actually do? Who are you with? You're not with your colleagues or with your friends. You're on your own with passengers who are not talking to each other. Non-places are places of solitude and also places where your identity is suspended."
Another aspect of non-places is amnesia. They kind of resist remembering. That possibly applies to a lot of work now. You finish one assignment and then you erase it and go on to the next one."
As happens once something interesting comes my way then there seem to be several more supporting or similar things. There's a particular phrase on this 'reticular activation', which points to the phenomenon that it's brain activity (by the reticular activating system) and not happenstance that leads to being alerted and suddenly paying attention to what is already there. In normal circumstances according to a Sherlock Holmes aphorism 'You see but you do not observe'. Once alerted, in my experience, the observation follows.
The things that formed a pattern this week are all to do with work and power. In the first instance it was actual electrical power. Washington DC, where I live, and several adjacent states suffered a severe storm on Friday June 29 that resulted in a power cut (outage) including, for some, cut off of internet and phone connections. I was out of the country at the time so unaffected but now I am back and traveling down to visit a friend in Southern Virginia who today, July 8, still has no power or water and very intermittent phone and internet. (The water is pumped from a well).
Hearing this I started to think about how most knowledge work cannot get done without access to electrical power or internet availability. A friend told me a story of how when the internet went down in her house one evening at 9:00 p.m. the five residents (who were all on their individual laptops at the time) decided that there was nothing else to do but go to bed.
I've been doing a piece of work where the question of generational differences has come up a few times. There's a feeling that each generation is very different and there are stereotypes being generated of Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, and Baby Boomers and time periods which mark the start of that generation.
This isn't the right moment for me to talk about why I think the whole generational thing that stereotypes like this tend to solidify in people's minds is overblown, and makes a lot of money for consultants. I've met many older people who are totally computer and social media literate, entrepreneurial, and happy mobile workers, and many younger ones who've got very limited computer skills, no spirit of get up and go, and want a manager who will tell them what to do. But I am happy to say that I think different people whatever their age have different responses to work, the workplace, management style, career progression and so on.
So I was amused this week when I got several articles about aging into my email box. I can't remember now (is it because I am one of those referred to as 'senior') whether someone sent me an article which I forwarded to someone and he/she sent me one in return, or whether getting several is happenstance, or whether a report on aging has triggered journalists to all weigh in on the topic. Of course, it could be any combination of these plus other things. Van Morrison's phrase springs to mind 'There ain't know why there just is.' And now I'm wondering how old Van Morrison is.
A regular part of organizational life are those events called 'off-sites', 'retreats', 'teambuilding' or sometimes 'jollies'. I've been on my fair share of them ranging from outdoor experiential stuff in Dorset where we had to build rafts, scale walls, wade through water and so on to indoor hotel conference rooms, in places close to airports, with no daylight where we indulged in co-counselling and revealing our innermost thoughts to team members while sitting in a circle.
The Dorset thing was fairly early on in my career. I was a novice at that stage and when the trainer asked what activity we would least like to do given a choice of things like potholing, rock climbing, and white water rafting I naively said 'potholing' thinking we would be allocated to something we would like to do. Not the case. I spent a long terrifying day crawling underground in the darkness through wet mud. The trainer thought it would help me face my fears. I've never been near a pothole again.
One of the sitting in circle ones I remember, also early in my career, was where the trainer chain smoked throughout the day. (You can tell how long ago that was). As the room filled with smoke I asked him if he would stop smoking or smoke outside. He lashed out at me for stepping on his 'rights' and said if I didn't like him smoking I could leave the course. So much for a 'safe environment'.
What I learned from these early career experiences was to treat teambuilding events with a certain skepticism. I don't think that was the intention of them. But I was never quite clear what the intention of them was.
This is one of the difficulties with teambuilding events. Getting to some reliable assessment of their value or any return on investment is extremely difficult. This may be because the objectives and intended outcomes are not spelled out in a way that then facilitates effective measurement. This problem came to mind a couple of weeks ago when I was a participant in a two day off-site with my colleagues. This was an event designed to promote ... what?
Between May 27 and June 10 (today) I've been in various cities: New York, Oxford, Brussels, Paris, Los Angeles, and today Chicago. I've been in Union Station (Washington DC), Penn Station (NY), Newark Airport, London Airport, Brussels Airport, a coach to Paris, the Dover-Calais ferry, Eurostar, Gare du Nord, St Pancras Station, and Oxford Station, LA Airport, Chicago Airport. I've been in several different hotel lobbies and public areas and countless cafes and restaurants.
I'm not writing this list to illustrate my current insane nomadic life but to ask a question. Why in all these places I am forced to listen to one or all of piped music, television broadcasts, and public service announcements? This noise is competing with people talking to each other (conversational pitch), on their cell phones (extra loud 'phone voices'), EMS and police sirens, traffic noise, additional noise from repair or construction work sites, and street buskers.
I have a particular fury with piped music which seems to be everywhere except the quiet coach of the Amtrak, the Eurostar, and an aircraft once it has taken off. The effect of having to shout my coffee order to a barista because she cannot hear above the music has now led me to write my regular order on a card and hand it to my server.
Sitting in a meeting on redesigning some government office space other day I tried to make sense of a number of phrases which, I'm assuming, are common in the world I am learning to inhabit. So, I heard block and stack, density ratios, lift and shift, fit factor (not physical fitness of people), finishings, and then various things about HVAC systems, fan coils and so on. We meeting participants all looked at floor plans of office layouts with 'innovation hubs', 'huddle rooms', and other space descriptors.
What I did not hear was anything about the people (not just the numbers of them) who are going to work in the space, the work they will do, the technology they will use, and the adaptations to business processes the move opportunity offers that could result in a transformed business: on that offers higher value for less cost than currently. This seems to me a missed opportunity. Surely organizations should be as aware of the indirect costs and opportunities of moving employees to a new or refurbished office or other workplace as they are of the direct costs and opportunities of the physical bricks, finishings, and furnishings?
If organizational leaders took a holistic, strategic and integrated approach to workplace design: an approach that included consideration of business processes, people's modes of working together, and better use of available technology. The end result would deliver much more than what is implied in the 'lift and shift' approach.
Somewhere along the line I got the phrase 'All models are wrong. Some models are useful.' This has come to top of mind during the week when models of all types have entered my consciousness. This week I've been walking round a full size cardboard mock-up of new office space and furniture that the intended occupants are walking around and through, making comments on its viability and suggesting improvements. It's great fun seeing the ease with which the cardboard can be picked up and re-sited with no difficulty. Cardboard boxes piled one on top of the other represent standing work stations, and flip chart paper the computer monitor. Intended occupants are assessing light levels, asking questions about noise, and so on.
This exercise was followed by a trip to an office furniture showroom where the same people now experienced the type of furniture that would go in the spaces. So where we had the cardboard mock-up of six people sitting at what is called benching (essentially akin to a long rectangular dining table that in the café chain, Le Pain Quotidien, is called 'our communal table' and has a little spiel associated with it ) in the office showrooms we went to they were sitting at the real thing and thoroughly enjoying it. But again the showrooms are just a model. We don't know what the real thing will actually be like, and that's where the phrase sprang to mind, because people are fearful that the model is useful in theory but could be wrong in practice.
At the Organization Design Forum Conference in Atlanta earlier in the week Shoshana Zuboff, the now retired Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, at Harvard Business School was the hit of the event. Unfortunately I missed her as I was traveling but I took a look at a couple of You Tube clips of her talking. Her seven minutes on design flaws in organizational structure resonated.
She talks of 'chapters of capitalism' and asks how we realign our commercial operations with new needs. Which she suggests is very difficult. I guess much of her video clip is drawn from her book The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism as she proposes a new chapter of capitalism based on serving the new needs of customers that are grounded in personal empowerment and expression. I haven't read the book yet – although when I went to put in on my Amazon wish list after the conference I discovered that it was already on my list. 'Amazon' politely told me that since I was trying to put it on my list again it would move it to the top. I've now ordered the book from my local library.
Last week I started to get to grips with being a fully remote worker for my new company. I am one of the very few (only?) employees who is not tied to an office but is home based and also mobile. Also this past week I facilitated a webinar on managing mobile workers for my previous organization, and so it seems like I am eating more dog food (see previous post on eating dogfood) but this week's is about mobile/remote working. The session I facilitated was the first in a series of monthly sessions targeted at managers in one organization. Each month there will be
A one hour input webinar for managers on a specific topic with hints and tips, guidance, ideas to apply
A guest speaker from an external organization giving a case on how they are tackling the topic, also an hour
Topics for the next 12 months are:
- Overview of managing a mobile workforce
- Setting up your team for success
- Setting and managing performance expectations
- Managing effective communication across mobile and on-site team members
- Introducing new employees to your mobile environment
- Building trust among and between mobile workers, managers, customers, etc.
- Managing the work flow
- Managing customer expectations
- Managing employee issues with the mobile environment
- Managing employee stress in an 'always-on' environment
- Developing your team members skills for mobility
- Support for you as a manager of a mobile workforce
The strange thing about joining a new company is the strangeness of it. Everything is somewhat different from the known, but it is not completely unknown either. Some attributes of organizations tend to be present in all of them. Use of Microsoft Office is one example, having conference rooms, kitchen areas, photocopiers, and other office equipment is largely similar, so is the likelihood of enjoying a level of employee benefits. Similar organizational processes appear: a payroll system, expense and timesheet requirements, and phone numbers, business cards, and email addresses are part and parcel of most organizational life. But beyond these explicit and/or tangible aspects things are different, and it's getting to grips with those which are so fascinating.
This past week I've been continuing with researching and writing chapter eight of my forthcoming book. As I said last week, it's on management fads and fashions, and it's been an interesting foray into my prejudices and experiences, the academic theory on the topic, and the popular writing about fads.
At this point I'm pondering all the information and trying to get it into a manageable format that will engage readers. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, all about 'that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire' has the engagement factor down pat. I started to re-read bits of his book, looking for the nuggets that I remembered from my first reading of it. Of course, that rather side-tracked me as I drifted off into remembering my own teenage years consorting with people wearing Hush Puppies (one of the fads he discusses) the first time they were a fashion fad.
This week the project that I'm working on has taken another turn. People are looking at office layout floor plans and realizing that, it's true, there are not going to be any private offices. Any space that looks like private offices i.e. one person in one room, is going to be shared and the room itself will be available for others to use if the designated occupants are off-site.
Lots of people are getting hot under the collar and wondering how they are going to get their jobs done. There are pleas for special consideration – usually to do with the nature of the work which seems reasonable to consider. The mitigating factors boil down to three: client demands, confidentiality requirements, and security (of documents, etc). However, all of these can be addressed without recourse to a private, single occupant office. Underlying this plea, and what may be driving it, is what is not stated. One reason for a private office that people don't talk about is that of position in the hierarchy. So, unspoken is the comment, 'I've worked n years, clawing my way up the corporate ladder, I'm at the top – or nearly – and I'm entitled to the corner office with the windows.'
Back in September 2011 a friend emailed me saying he was planning a new book that will be a collection of articles that follow the evolution of strategic workforce planning (SWP). It is to be divided it into a historical section that will trace the early development of SWP practices, a larger section that will deal with current practices within a cross section of leading organizations and a final section that will offer some thought leader perspectives on future directions for this whole prospect of resourcing workforce capabilities.
He asked me if I would be willing to contribute a piece, saying he was "open to ideas, but I initially had in mind something from you that would be in the future directions section -- perhaps suggesting some ways that virtual organizations may pursue to deal with cultural challenges when organizations are loosely tethered networks."
This week I got this question: "I wondered if you know, or have seen on your travels any great examples of specific organization structures for Innovation Labs?" The writer goes on, "In our view this is a specific environment where people are brought in to innovate the way in which we produce and sell our products and services. This will be separate to the business and will involve some new hires and some employees rotated out of the business. Have you seen any principles on structures to facilitate innovation?"
What's interesting about this is that current thinking appears to converge around the notion that innovation is best developed through business ecosystems. That is a form of intentional development of communities of economic co-ordination where multiple parties join forces to "coordinate innovation across complementary contributions arising within multiple markets and hierarchies," from this, if things go well, the business ecosystems co-evolve and adapt to continuously changing contexts. You can read more about this aspect in James F. Moore's paper Business ecosystems and the view from the firm.
I've just been looking at the stuff I've collected this week in relation to the value of social contact in the workplace. It's a topic of interest to me right now as in the project we are currently working on the requirement to help the workforce develop skills in sustaining healthy social interactions amongst their virtual team members as well as face to face ones is beginning to loom large.
There's no doubt that healthy social interaction is positively related to productivity and organizational commitment . Additionally close friendships in general prove good for people's physiological health. As the Gallup organization reports "Relationships serve as a buffer during tough times, which in turn improves our cardiovascular functioning and decreases stress levels. On the other hand, people with very few social ties have nearly twice the risk of dying from heart disease and are twice as likely to catch colds - even though they are less likely to have the exposure to germs that comes from frequent social contact." And beyond that having a network of supportive relationships contributes to psychological well-being. Specifically a network gives people a sense of belonging, feelings of self-worth, and the comfort of security.
This past week has been exceptionally busy for me, but reflecting on it a theme has emerged as, among other things, I've read three articles on healthy communities, participated in a discussion on organization development in China, and read a lovely article about a woman in her 70s who is an excellent runner and has developed her form using Chi running techniques, and commented on a wellness white paper a colleague sent me.
The connection between all these is close, albeit from different perspectives. They are all concerned with creating and using positive energies and emotions. Doing this leads to individual and organization health and high performance. I'm glad that I've recognized the theme and can now re-group myself as by Friday I felt thoroughly pulled down by the inertia, politics, and power plays of organizational life. (Not helped by watching the movie All the King's Men about a politician,Willie Stark, who "begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people but soon becomes corrupted by success and caught between dreams of service and an insatiable lust for power")
I was on a flight last week reading the European Wall Street Journal. The front page (October 31) had a great photomontage showing that
1. Truck maker Scania plans to pare production by as much as 15%, beginning in November.
2. Volvo intends to scale back truck manufacturing next year.
3. PSA Peugeot Citroën plans to suspend production at a plant in Slovakia. The company also said it would lay off 6,000 workers, mostly in France.
4. Liquor maker Diageo restructured its European operation by centralizing certain functions and shifting investment away from Western European markets.
5. Saab Automobile agreed to sell Saab to Chinese companies Pang Da and Zhejiang Youngman for $141.9 million, following a two-year struggle to turn the company around after decades of losses.
On the next page were a further set of news items:
We were in a meeting last week talking about virtual working and how often people who are in virtual teams should/could come in to meet each other face to face, and for what reasons. We had some debate on this and then someone said that his concern was with the Gallup question on the employee engagement survey that we use. One of the questions respondents are asked to rate is 'I have a best friend at work'. His concern was something on the lines of if it is important for motivation and productivity to have a best friend at work then how would people find a best friend or develop a relationship that would qualify as such if they weren't meeting face to face as often or even at all.
The Gallup Management Journal has a short article about having a best friend at work saying:
Human beings are social animals, and work is a social institution. Long-term relationships are often formed at work -- networking relationships, friendships, even marriages. In fact, if you did not meet your spouse in college, chances are you met him or her at work. The evolution of quality relationships is very normal and an important part of a healthy workplace. In the best workplaces, employers recognize that people want to forge quality relationships with their coworkers, and that company allegiance can be built from such relationships.
The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today's marketplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization
Beyond any move logistics - which are critically important to get right - other conscious choices and decisions need to be made in preparing people for an office move. Typically before a move, in many real estate moves or office space redesigns we ask people to complete a survey on work style (are they deskbound, etc.). Then we gather 'requirements' on what they'll need in the new space. However, there is a tension here. People will base requirements on what they know, or what they are assuming or have heard from others about the new space. What we get from 'requirements' gathering is, for the most part, uninformed by actual experience of working in new space styles and new work ways. People have little ability to make informed choices and decisions on what they don't know or haven't experienced. Addressing that knowledge gap is essential in order to get informed requirements that help us meet any business goals related to real estate and/or carbon footprint reductions combined with business process streamlining and delivering the business strategy.
If you are interested in the topic of organization culture change join the discussion at the Organization Design Forum's Virtual Learning Series webinar I am facilitating on October 4 from 11am - 12:30 pm Eastern Time. The session is designed to be collaborative, seeking participant input and observations to build the story of culture and design. Get more details by clicking here.
The session discusses the notion that when competitive and other contextual forces require a change in business strategy, business leaders usually turn to organization design for changes in structure and work process. As the power of organizational culture in strategy achievement has become clearer, many business leaders are making "culture change" a priority of organization design, often because they see the organizational culture as limiting what they want to achieve.
I just started to read A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander that someone gave me for my birthday. My friend knew I was interested in it because he looked at my Amazon wish list - which made me wonder whether Santa now looks at Amazon wish lists rather than at notes floated up chimneys. The book was on my list because now that I'm moving in architectural circles I find that it's a book frequently mentioned, and I was curious about seeing if Alexander's pattern language of the physical architectural could translate to organizing the work systems, processes, and behaviors that are stuff of the organization design as I define it - "arranging how to do the work necessary to achieve a business purpose and strategy".
Myriad companies traditionally associated with architecture, product design, and facilities layout, are entering the field of organization behavior, organization development, change management, and organization design as I know it - are finding. Tim Brown of IDEO (a global design firm) in his Fast Company article Strategy by Design, notes that "In order to do a better job of developing, communicating, and pursuing a strategy, you need to learn to think like a designer." Helpfully he offers his five-point plan on this:
I was asked to compile a 'recipe' for an organization design Subject Matter Expert (SME) the other day. Here it is for you to try out.
What is an SME? It's all too easy to assume a nebulous vision of a guru swanning around giving ad hoc but sage advice to hard-working organization design project team members and then seeing them act on it.
But a workable vision for SME value-add to a project is much harder edged than this. Envision an effective SME. He/she has in-depth, specialist or expert knowledge of a business area, work process, or system functionality. With this goes the ability to transmit and share his/her knowledge to the organization design project team in a way that helps them successfully meet, or even exceed, their goals and objectives.
So, for example, a measurement SME will be able to help the Measurement work team choose specifically, what to measure, why to measure it, and how to measure it.
There are several challenges to the SME role:
a) The SME brief is not clear so he/she doesn't know what the expectations are in terms of contribution and delivery.
b) The project team does not recognize the need for SME support in the tranches (or for a cross-cutting SME for example for change management).
c) The program lead does not have the skills or resources to select SMEs.
d) The team members do not know how or when to ask for SME support and assistance.
e) There is an inadequate match between what the team needs and what the team wants from the SME - are they looking for a trainer, peer-reviewer, approver, knowledge sharer or something else.
f) There is no point of contact for the SME to report or refer to for guidance and updates.
g) SMEs are not perceived as a 'real' contributor and are left off communications and out of meetings that could be relevant.
h) The SME has other organizational roles that take precedence over this one.
Four times this week I went to Timpson's - a UK shoe repairer and key cutting retailer. Each time was about a mailbox key. The first outlet I went to in Cornmarket, Oxford the assistant first said the key would be a special order and it would take a week to come in. When I told him I was leaving within a week he spent several minutes looking for an appropriate blank and found one that he thought would do the job.
I watched him cutting it. Splinters of metal were showering off the equipment and, out of interest, I asked him if he had eye protecting goggles. "Oh yes", he said. "They're in my apron pocket." He pulled them out to show me. "Why aren't you wearing them? Aren't you worried about your eyes?" I asked. "No", he said, "I just look away."
I knew a bit about Timpson as I'd done some research about it and included it as an example of a well run organization in my book Organization Culture: getting it right .
For the last two weeks I've been in the UK. My mother, aged 94, is having outpatient hospital treatment which means she has to go to the Churchill Hospital, Oxford each Monday - Friday for three weeks. (Fifteen treatments all told). I go with her. It's a fascinating exercise in trying to guess the organizational design alignment (or not) behind the scenes.
The service is run by South Central Ambulance Service NHS Trust (SCAS) . From their website I learned that they "signed a two-year contract, with NHS Oxfordshire to manage Oxfordshire patients' eligibility for non emergency transport by the ambulance service from 1 June 2010. In April 2010 SCAS undertook 24,053 patient transport journeys. SCAS' Patient Transport Service regularly receives around 4,000 telephone calls a week" And from another NHS Oxfordshire website I found out that:
"The service is free and is provided to enable patients to get to appointments in out patient departments or for minor treatments or investigations. It is available for patients registered within NHS Oxfordshire travelling within the areas of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.
The patient transport service costs the NHS in Oxfordshire over £3 million a year and in the last financial year we spent £350,000 of this on patients who were able to use 'walk on' transport. That is patients who could travel by car and need no assistance in getting in and out of a vehicle. We think that we can save as much as £200,000 by tightening up on who can use this service."
On the NHS "Have your say" website members of the public are invited to "Influence change in your local NHS - Tell us what you think about the patient transport service." Good enough so here goes.
I got the following email from someone who'd just read my book Corporate Culture: Getting it Right (in the UK published as Organisation Culture: Getting it Right).
"Something is wearing on me, something I can't get around. I am calling it the Walmart paradox. If indeed we believe (almost religiously) in the culture / business model connection, and that organizational success is in partly predicated on the tightly woven alignment between the two, how can we explain Walmart success? I mean the almost flagrant and overt inconsistency between Wal-Mart business practices and the so-called "respect for the individual" (one of three) core value is hard to reconcile. And I mention this because I am trying to do more transformational consulting and I espouse everything you put forth, and just wondering what do I say when someone says in a meeting, "what about Wal-Mart?"
I know you mention that one must consider the complexity of Wal-Mart's environment and all of the trade offs involved ... and that determining cause and effect is a futile endeavor. But isn't that inconsistency between culture and behavior ultimately unsustainable? That's the kind of irreconcilable stuff that incite revolutions and over throws governments, yet Wal-Mart's been at it for decades - and thriving!!!! Naomi help!"
Which of these groups of names sound more familiar to you?
Group 1: Chris Arygris, Herbert Shepard, Warner Burke, Larry Greiner, Harry Kolb, Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, Ralph White, Richard Beckhard, Warren Bennis, Robert Blake, Paul Lawrence, Jay Lorsch, Douglas McGregor, Edgar Schein, Fred Emery, Reg Revans, Eric Trist, Elliott Jaques, Abraham Maslow, B. F. Skinner, Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli,
Group 2:Margaret Mead, Karen Horney, Mary Parker Follett, Mary Gilson, Jane Addams, Jane Mouton, Margaret Wheatley, Edie Seashore, Elizabeth Bott Spillius, Isabel Menzies Lyth.
Last week I was sitting in a 'finish concepts' meeting with a group of architects and designers looking at floor tiles, color swatches for wall coverings, and so on. There were five concepts presented. Each one with an accompanying photo of something from nature - flower, rock, etc - than inspired the concept.
This was all interesting to me as I haven't been in one of those types of meetings before, and it was fascinating to see the way the participants handled the samples, discussed the pros and cons, and went into all kinds of details like how would you join carpeting and tile in a 'designed' way?
What they didn't talk about was what effect the color and finish combinations might have on worker productivity. I was pretty sure I've read articles on that topic and surely in designing office space (as we were) worker productivity and motivation should be part of that discussion.
The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies here in Washington DC, has been running a series of roundtable discussions on various aspects of technology and innovation. Last week I was one of the panelists at the discussion on policy and innovation.
Since I'm not a policy wonk and nor a technology nerd ("A PolicyWonk is related to the Technology Nerd, but understands people" according to Policywonk.com). I was a bit baffled about how to contribute effectively, however, once I got the email telling me that I was to provide an overview of my point of view, to go in the participant info pack and reminding me that I also had to speak to for ten minutes on this, I knew I had to get my act together.
I think I'm sitting in my home office. It's actually the local coffee shop. I've just read an article titled Designing Your Own Workspace Improves Health, Happiness and Productivity. It tells me that "Studies have revealed the potential for remarkable improvements in workers' attitudes to their jobs by allowing them to personalize their offices." Why do I need to personalize my space? Well here's the answer: Because "When people feel uncomfortable in their surroundings they are less engaged -- not only with the space but also with what they do in it. If they can have some control, that all changes and people report being happier at work, identifying more with their employer, and are more efficient when doing their jobs."
Oh, but my employer wants me out of the space for all kinds of reasons that add up to a whole range of cost and efficiency savings plus the noted productivity gains. (If you're interested, another article I read lists all the pluses of having a mobile workforce from both employee and employer perspectives). So, when I go to the bricks and mortar office where my employer is based I don't have an office. I am one of the growing band of mobile workers who books a hoteling space and sits as and where.
The past week I involved both gathering and distributing resources - mainly book title, articles, and websites. There was no single event sparking this, rather each meeting (of which I had a minimum of five each day) spawned something to look up or pass on. So I thought I'd collect in one spot everything that I put in my gunny sack on during the week and see if there were any themes or patterns or whether it was just a random collection of stuff.
Note that I'm not employed by M cKinsey Quarterly and nor do I get a commission for promoting their articles but I did like four that passed through my in-box this week and I passed on the details to colleagues.
Twice last week the work 'Placemaking' came up. So is this a new buzzword and why hadn't I heard it before? OK - some small research confirms that it is definitely not a new buzzword. It's been used by architects and designers since the 1970's. My search for it on Grist "rassled up 265 results." (I think 'rassled' is a new word -yes if the fact that Google couldn't throw up a definition means it is a new word).
But 'placemaking' is new to me because I am not an architect or a designer of physical spaces. It just happens that I am now at a point in my work life when physical design and organizational design are intersecting. Office space is not just within the scope of the facilities manager but within the scope of the employees and organizational designers/developers such as myself.
This week Wikipedia celebrates 10 years and I've read several pieces about this. One ends "Wikipedia is already starting to look rather stiff and middle-aged. To ensure its long term health, it needs to rediscover the flexibility of its early years". I liked this vision of an organization as a person with a personality. How does one keep an organization from creeping into arthritic old age?
One way that organizations try is by changing their logos as part of an effort to rebrand themselves in the public eye. Starbucks, turning 40 this year is one of them. There are lots of others. I was working for Prudential Insurance in the UK when it changed its logo from something I don't remember (I think an orange oblong) to the woman with the red headband that it still has. There was a huge internal launching party and much heigh ho about this but I our work did not change, nor did the way we did it.
Yesterday someone sent me the following enquiry:
I am on a working group related to disability employment within Birmingham, the aims of the group are about increasing the numbers of people with a disability in employment.
I wondered if either of you have come across any innovative approaches elsewhere in terms of organisation design or such just success stories you might have come across?
If you have could you let me know, am trying to get the group to look boarder than just the UK public sector which is where they are at the moment.
I thought this was fascinating. I'd never really thought of organization design in terms of disability in employment and what it might mean in terms of the four aspects of organization design I'm now tending to juggle with: people, process, organization, and space.
Four things on the same day last week converged on sustainability issues:
• I listened to a podcast The HR Function of the Future given by John Boudreau, Center for Effective Organizations, USC in which one of the questions he asked was "Will HR Connect Values and Culture to Sustainable Strategic Success?"
• Someone sent me some information about SAP's new HQ building that has just received LEED Platinum status.
• I was invited to join a community group "to share ideas and efforts related to sustainable workplace strategies".
• One of the students that I mentor decided last week to focus his dissertation research efforts on service innovations in the utilities sector - specifically related to sustainability.
So what did I learn from these four different slants on sustainability? First I learned that the term 'sustainability' was no being used in the same way, with the same definition, in each of the four instances. That confirmed my opinion that it's a word that is used very loosely. People have very different takes on it and usually do not take the time to clarify what they mean by it.
Someone sent me a link to a Ted talk 'Why work doesn't happen at work'. Jason Fried gives a number of reasons for this - but they boil down to two M & Ms: managers and meetings. He's got a nice image of one's day being shredded as in a Cuisinart by these two M's.
I enjoyed the talk but it didn't get me any closer to answering the question why do 'knowledge workers' need to come to a workplace (beyond the M & Ms). We were discussing this at a meeting on teleworking and office use. We're trying to design a building that people will only need to come to for specific reasons but we're still wrestling with what these reasons might be.
On the flight home yesterday I listened to the podcast of the HBI Idea Cast on Why a Happy Brain Performs Better.
In this guest Guest: Shawn Achor, CEO of Aspirant and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work talks about the principles of thanking people,
It's back to the field of positive psychology that I've talked about in previous posts. The book information tells us that
"Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn't just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe."
I was having a drink last night with a friend who mentioned the trust equation. We were talking about it in relation to doing consulting and collaborative work face to face and on-line. What we were both interested in was in the age of IBM Jams, Imaginatik collaborative software, and other forums for on-line crowdsourcing and/or problem solving. Do people need to meet face to face and if so when.
This question of face to face meetings is also pertinent to the questions I'm working on around teleworking. How often do managers need to meet with employees? What oils the wheels of relationships in the workplace? Do we need to suggest that teams meet face to face for social and business events at regular intervals? Are face to face meetings 'better' in the start up of a project or relationship than on-line, etc. etc.
Last week I took a road trip by Greyhound bus. Since I'd also taken various other transport trips in the last month (2 different airlines to get me to Shanghai, Amtrak to New York, subways in DC, and Shanghai, buses in DC) the Greyhound experience was just another travel experience to enjoy or endure.
This Greyhound one started off with booking my ticket on-line. That was straightforward enough. Fortunately the day before I read the small print in the acknowledgement email and saw that seats were allocated on a 'first come' basis and if the bus got filled before you got on then you had to wait for the next one. I was traveling on the busiest travel day of the US travel year.
Well, over the weekend I've got hooked on organizational cultures of gratitude. I've now discovered an article by Charles Kerns at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. His article Counting your blessings will benefit yourself and your organization. has a good number of references to explore (including some from Robert Emmons whom I mentioned in my previous blog on this topic), and a second article by Kerns, Putting Performance and Happiness Together in the Workplace bears a strong likeness to the Harrison article I mentioned in my previous blog on Cultures of Gratitude. I'm not implying plagiarism here. It's just that Kerns suggests that 'Happy High Performers' exhibit the following characteristics:
I haven't yet come across a CEO who says he/she wants to instill in their organization 'a culture of gratitude'. I've heard them ask for cultures of innovation, teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and customer service among others but not gratitude.
Yet organizations, thinking of them here as entities with personas, have a lot to feeling grateful for: that they have customers or clients willing to buy their products and service, that they have suppliers able to supply them with stuff to operate, that they have shareholders willing to invest money in them, (or in the case of non-profits volunteers willing to invest time in them), that they have employees willing to work for them, that they have regulations to help their competitive position (witness SAP just having to pay Oracle $1.3 billion this week in a copyright infringement lawsuit). I'm sure you can think of other aspects in where organizations could feel gratitude. Would having a 'culture of gratitude' make a difference to performance - preferably in the direction of high performance? Maybe, but probably only if gratitude was seen as a positive organizational attribute and not a credibility buster.
Last week we were running a one day introduction to team based teleworking. It was a pilot program with two teams of staff plus their managers. It was a fun day - opening with an icebreaker using the go ask anyone cards which usually start people off laughing as they discover, for example, what their co-workers answer to a question like "what did you want to be when you grew up?" or "if you could trade places with someone for a week, whom would you choose and why?"
The day was in two parts. The morning of the workshop were focused exclusively on the team, the work it needs to produce and how they think/feel they need to work together when operating remotely.
The afternoon concentrated on the tools and software that most appropriately met the group's needs in terms of their work and the community they want to build, and getting their computers up and running for working on them away from the office.
Flawless Consulting, by Peter Block, has been a long-time favorite of mine. Thursday and Friday this week I was using it as a 'course text' for the consulting skills program I was facilitating in Shanghai so I was paying particular attention to its content and relevance. A number of things caught my attention. (I was using the second edition but someone told me there is now a third edition which I just looked up and discover that it becomes available in March 2011).
First was the way he allocated discussion to the phases of consulting. He notes on page 6 that: "each consulting project, whether it lasts ten minutes or ten months goes through five phases". He then overviews the five - entry and contracting, discovery and dialogue, feedback and the decision to act, engagement and implementation, extension, recycle or terminate. All good so far.
Yesterday was my day for thinking about space andorganizational performance. First, I listened to a webinar hosted by the Real Estate Executive Board. It was called the Headquarter Relocation Strategy Playbook and billed as:
"Another addition to REEB's collection of playbooks; this teleconference lays out a road map on the best way to tackle a headquarter relocation. Filled with case studies, actionable tools, and time-saving templates, this playbook should be your first stop when creating your own internal strategy."
Yesterday's memorable discussion focused on new business models. One person arguing hotly that there were no people with the skills and know-how to change legacy computer company business models into cloud computing business models, or how to change company IT departments running standard software and hardware into 'cloud' departments (or no departments).
This may or may not be true. That same day I'd been reading an article, The Business of Sharing, on the new business model of renting/sharing items. Organizations mentioned who used a renting model included Zipcar, Bag Borrow or Steal, Netflix, Rent that Toy, TechShop, While Couch Surfing and thredUP were discussed as sharing models.
The autumn 2010 issue of the RSA Journal has got two articles in it about social networking which make for useful and interesting reading as I get to grips with questions about how people establish and maintain social contacts and a sense of work community if they are working predominantly away from an office base and not seeing colleagues face to face.
The article "Nudge plus Networks" notes that "We have made great strides in developing our scientific knowledge about behavioural economics and network effects over the past couple of decades." And goes on to ask "But how far has this actually shaped our approach to public policy?" This question can usefully be asked about organizational policy. We are learning a lot about social networks and how work gets done outside the lines. (See Leading Outside the Lines) but not yet applying what we know about social network effects to career development, ways of working, or management of diffuse teams.
One of last week's meetings I was involved in had the effect of highlighting the culture clashes which occur when old and new ways of doing things seem oppositional. Two of these in particular highlighted this, and left me wondering how to manage these in real time - away from the safe theory of BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) or other structured ways of handling and mediating disputes and conflicts.
The two meetings were very different. The first involved me (new to organization) and long-server (21 years) in one room talking on the phone with another new to organization person about the teleworking and how to develop a strategy around teleworking. There were a number of differences in our perspectives with the two newcomers taking a very different stance from the long server. This was expressed at one level in very different language use, the newcomers talking about 'taking responsibility', 'owning their work', and 'choosing their work arrangements', while the long server talked about 'signed contracts with supervisors', 'reprimands for non-compliance', and 'getting manager approvals'.
Yesterday I was at a roundtable in NY hosted by DEGW that describes itself as "a strategic business consultancy," that is to say they "make complex issues simple. Our people help clients to capitalize on a vital dynamic; the relationship between people and the design of physical place to enhance organisational performance. "
The topic was "Preparing People for the New Workspace". As the organizers said: "in implementing a workplace strategy, preparing a new workplace for people is half the challenge. The other half, or maybe more than half (!), is preparing people for the new workplace. "
I was sitting in a meeting yesterday where we were discussing the impending office move. One of the effects of the move could be - if we drove it in that direction - a significant shift in the organization's culture. The amount of space people are moving to is much less than they currently have, and the layout is completely different: open plan, little in the way of cubicle divider height, and much less storage space.
The instruction has gone out that people will get no more that two crates to put all their items in and they are not to bring certain things - personal plug in electrical appliances, etc. The plan is that over the next two years people will practice hoteling, teleworking, free addressing and other ways of working that do not include having a designated personal desk space of their own.
We're getting a lot of questions from people in the organization that I'm currently working with about teleworking. This is specifically in relation to the business strategy to increase the number of days people telework. The most frequently asked questions are: How will managers measure teleworkers performance? This is a question that comes both from the managers and the staff they manage - see my blog knowledge workers and the Kano model for one perspective on this.
Hot on the heels of this question is managers asking "How much physical space do I need for my staff?" Of course, the answer to this is 'It depends on the type of work, the worker's ability to telework, and the manager's ability to manage people teleworking."
Peter Blocks's foreword to a recently released book on positive deviance (aka 'bright spots' in the Heath brother parlance), Inviting Everyone: Healing Healthcare through Positive Deviance makes the point that:
We all have a long tradition of thinking about individual transformation, but the question of how collectives or social systems are transformed by design is still open for discovery. We are familiar with how social systems can be disrupted by forces like technology, or shifts in markets, or political upheaval, but how to reform a social system growing out of the explicit intention of its own members is still cluttered with conventional practices that struggle to fulfill what they were designed to do.
Yesterday I was in a meeting where people were discussing the setting up of 'hoteling' in their office. Hoteling is the office management strategy that considers certain office resources, such as workspaces and equipment, to be shared assets, rather than assets 'owned' by specific individuals within the company. By sharing assets between employees, an organization can optimize the efficiency of their office, reduce their real estate costs by employing more people in the same space, and increase employee satisfaction and retention by giving them access to workspaces and resources whenever and wherever they need them. Hoteling is typically characterized by reservation and check-in processes, and includes telephone switching functionality.
Hoteling is different from hot desking or free addressing in which the office is considered to be like a parking lot - workspace available on a first come, first serve basis. There is no advance reservation capability, no check-in ability, and phones are typically forwarded instead of switched.
Two related pieces caught my eye over the weekend. One was called Ruses to cut printing costs, in September 2, Technology Quarterly, (Economist). And the other was on the environmental costs of business travel including conferences.
The first piece notes that "In Europe, meanwhile, each worker prints an average of 31 pages a day, seven of which were not even wanted, according to recent research by Lexmark, a printer manufacturer." It goes on to describe an idea which is totally obvious when explained
So far, this week my meetings have centered around extending and encouraging the use of telework amongst the workforce, and the associated discussions of converting workspace to free addressing and hoteling. (I noted that all of these discussions have been face to face).
Although none of these are new concepts in many settings - consultancies in particular have been working in this way for several years. For example Accenture three years ago (2007) was reported as follows:
For Accenture, teleworking is an essential component of its corporate strategy. The company has more than 3,000 employees based in the region. Total seat capacity in its Reston
offices is 1,200, and, on average, 1,100 people come to the office daily, meaning that nearly two-thirds of the company's regionally based workforce telecommute on any given day.
What's the difference between an employee and a contractor employed by an organization to do work in that organization that no-one else is available or qualified to do?
In most organizations I have worked in the 'contractor' is a second class citizen, denied the rights and privileges of the 'employee' for example access to training programs, attendance at certain meetings, space to voice opinions, feedback on performance, and so on.
Why this is I am not sure, particularly since the contractor is, for the most part as committed to doing a good job for the organization as the employee (in many instance more committed than an employee because a contractor's status is that much more tenuous).
Received wisdom suggests that today's workforce includes workers from four generations. A wave of generational research has classified these as Veterans (sometimes referred to as Traditionals, Matures or the silent generation), Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (also known as Millennial), and generalized the characteristics of each generation. While the range of years used to define each group varies slightly depending on the source, a 2008 Conference Board report Shifting the focus: Updating your work-life approach to integrate employee engagement and talent management, May 2008 summarizes each generation as follows:
I've been working with a business unit on redesigning their space. What is harder to get across is the notion that space redesign impacts other elements of the organizational system. In looking for ideas on how to guide the leaders into thinking about their unit as a system I dug out these five rules of thumb from my book on organization design:
1 Design when there is a compelling reason
Without a compelling reason to design it will be very difficult to get people behind any initiative and engaged in it. Business jargon talks about 'the burning platform' needed to drive major change. Part of a decision to design rests on making a very strong, strategic, widely accepted business case for it - based on the operating context. If there is no business case for design or redesign it is not going to work.
I was amused to read Lucy Kellaway's column in the Financial Times on Monday. It's all about the blurring of the lines between home and office. She wants to know why it is that people eat cereal at their desks. What prevents them from the 90 sec exercise of eating it at home? She suggests that:
"Over the past decade there has been a steady onward march of objects, activities and emotions from hearth to cubicle, so there is now almost nothing left that belongs entirely at home.
Modern office workers can conduct all their most intimate morning rituals at work. They turn up in sweat pants, take a shower, clean their teeth and apply make-up. Offices double as wardrobes and laundry rooms with damp towels, spare clothes and shoes strewn carelessly around the place."
A fascinating interview in Slate magazine (sent to my by my brother) quotes James Bagian - once a NASA astronaut among other careers - as saying:
You can't change the culture by saying, 'Let's change the culture.' It's not like we're telling people, "Oh, think in a systems way." That doesn't mean anything to them. You change the culture by giving people new tools that actually work. The old culture has tools, too, but they're foolish: "Be more careful," "Be more diligent," "Do a double-check," "Read all the medical literature." Those kinds of tools don't really work.
I read an interesting piece on manager resistance to teleworking on the Washington Technology website. It discusses four reasons why managers (specifically government employees in the case of this article) are resistant to letting their staff telework:
1. Technical disconnects: specifically equipment and security
2. Disconnected employees: impromptu face to face meetings count
3. Management matters: management attitudes on performance are critical
4. Bad apple. Bad news: this boils down to can managers trust their employees to be productive when out of sight?
I was very amused to see the write up of an experiment on collaboration at work in last week's Economist. Two researchers "wondered in particular if the mere presence of a canine in the office might make people collaborate more effectively. And, as they told a meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 2nd, they found that it could."
Examining orgnisation culture is fascinating because despite theories, perspectives, definitions, labels, and inventories that claim to measure it culture is largely an unknown quantity. Donald Rumsfeld could have been talking about organisational culture, instead of Iraq, when he commented:
"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know".
-Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing
Grappling with the issues put down to the culture of his organisation one executive commented: "There's the question of what it (culture) is. I suppose every company has a corporate culture of a sort, and certainly every executive I've met claims to be promoting one ("we have a culture of accountability" etc). But such widespread usage makes the word culture feel flabby to me. It would be wonderful if it could be described more crisply or provocatively so I could know what it is and then do something about it."
The Economist had an article on Pixar on June 17 "Planning for the sequel". It made the point that Pixar also obliges its teams to conduct formal post mortems once their films are complete.
In lesser hands this might degenerate into a predictable Hollywood frenzy of backslapping and air-kissing. But Pixar demands that each review identify at least five things that did not go well in the film, as well as five that did.
One organization I worked in had what was called the meeting 'hotwash'. After every meeting there was a brief review spanning:
a) what went well about the meeting: things like agenda, content, participation, actions recorded
b) what went less well: things like not listening, talking over each other, paying more attention to BlackBerries than the meeting
c) what to do differently next time: things like shorten the meeting, have a timekeeper, 'have the meeting in the meeting' (that is don't leave the meeting and say something different outside it than you said inside it)
I was on a short flight today and didn't hear the sole flight attendant tell us that it was a 'no beverage service flight'. About 20 minutes into the trip I asked her if I could have a glass of water. Her response caused me to think a bit. Clearly I was a 'customer' and she must have had extensive training in customer service. But at odds with this training was the obvious irritation she felt that I'd dared to ask for a 'beverage' on a no beverage flight. It seemed to me that she was trying to decide whether to refuse to bring the glass of water. Maybe she thought if other passengers saw me getting a glass of water she would have to serve them with one too.
Fortunately, for me, customer service prevailed and I got a glass of water. But she did not deliver this with a warm smile or any semblance of authentic service. Instead it came with a lecturette delivered loudly enough to put off other passengers from asking for water. Something on the lines of if I'd been paying attention as the flight took off I would have heard this was a no-beverage flight, and could I please remember that none of the flights on this route offered beverages (why beverages and not drinks I wondered?) and on the next flight I took on this route I must not ask for a drink/beverage.
I've just read two questionnaires aiming to find out what people feel about working in their office space (or rather doing their work).
As I read them I wondered how many people, when they are looking for a job, factor in the physical office space. (Beyond how long their commute to it is).
How many people at a job interview get the chance to actually look at the space they will be working in and work out whether its physical aspects of: light, heat, noise, closeness to coffee machine, lavatories, etc. are conducive to their well-being?
In my experience, asking interview questions about the physical space are not frequently found on a standard checklist of interview questions (either for the interviewee or the interviewer). But that would be useful for both parties. The physical space has significant impact on productivity.
The Independent printed a piece titled 'A hard chair equals a hard heart'. It's an interesting idea that psychologists have found that the texture and feel of objects around us, even those we are sitting on, can affect the way we think and behave.
Given that the office move I am involved in means buying furniture the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that if we insisted easy-going, laissez faire managers can only sit on hard chairs, and driving, hard pushing managers must have soft chairs, the result might be more equitable treatment of employees.
So I read the article playing with this idea, and discovered:
Lucy Kellaway, a Financial Times columnist, came up with a great idea in her column earlier this week.
In Britain they are cutting about a million jobs. In France, they have axed the Bastille Day garden party. All governments are looking for ways big and small to cut spending. But there is a better way that no one has yet considered: cut Fridays.
By making Thursday the last day of the working week, 20 per cent would be cut off the wage bill, yet, miraculously, productivity would hardly fall.
She continues with some scant evidence that productivity falls as the week progresses, reaching virtually zero by the end of Thursday. (She tells readers the evidence is scant so a good research project for someone). When I googled 'what weekdays are workers most productive?' what popped up was the report of a survey by Robert Half International
In the organization I'm currently working with I met a person who's worked there for 44 years, and all in the same building. Many members of the workforce are long serving and it's a challenge now that the whole office is moving to a new building to develop a pragmatic approach to the emotional trauma many are feeling about the move in a way that will enable seamless business continuity. Somehow we have to encourage people who wouldn't dream of moving to a new job, new office, new house, etc. to at least keep an open mind about what it will mean for them. I have to hold back on judging them for being less than adventurous, and tap into the vast organizational knowledge they have to add value to the move in some way.
Pursuing this thought this took me to a coaching website that I get a regular email newsletter from (Life Trek Coaching). I remembered that last week's 'lecturette' had been on curiosity. The writer suggested that 'the key to unleashing curiosity is letting go of fear. Nothing squelches curiosity more than being afraid to fail, or being afraid of making mistakes, or being afraid of embarrassing oneself. Curious people live by the mantra "fail often to succeed sooner".
I'm involved in a head office move project. A lot of people are not thrilled about the move for various reasons that include concerns about threats to job security, loss of status (as people lose 'their' offices and space becomes shared,) need to learn new skills, change in culture, changes in communication norms, ability to make the change, shifts in influence and control, changes to commute route. Each of these concerns is also an opportunity - but somehow the opportunities get drowned out by the noise of the concerns. People don't think they're going to be 'happy' in the new space.
So I was interested to read a piece in the World Future Society email update on the economics and politics of well-being. This relates that:
Changing office space, for example moving to a different building, or refitting an existing building, is an event that is much beyond the relocation itself. Thought through carefully and aligned to working practices and the business objectives and strategy it can lead to major changes in the way work is done, the cultural norms and practices, and employee motivation and productivity.
Unfortunately many companies fail to see the opportunities, beyond 'getting rid of paper' - replicating in their new space the things they had in the old space but with newer furniture, different wall colors, and (in better cases) less paper.
One of the reasons for this is to do with positional power and feelings of 'entitlement'. Many senior people feel they are 'entitled' to a large office with impressive furniture, while the junior staff will do just fine in an 8 x 8' cubicle with high partitions - the ubiquitous 'cube farm' approach. This does not square with global trends that are forcing different working patterns, and require the ability to think of space in terms of working practices and not status.
Still thinking about the distractions of gadgetry (BlackBerries, cell phones, computers ...) that I wrote about the other day, I came across two methods of trying to deal with this. The first is mindfulness training
A paper from the University of Pennsylvania discussed a
study in which training was provided to a high-stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq [and] has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training, or MT, and improvements in mood and working memory.
Remember working memory is the part that is impaired with the distraction of gadgetry.
The lead researcher, Amishi Jha, said that:
This week I've facilitated two different (public) organization design training programs. (CIPD and HR Society). Both times in the 'housekeeping' start-up to the program I've made the BlackBerry call as I don't like facilitating a program with people furiously working their BlackBerries on their knees. I give participants a choice. We can stop once an hour for a five minute BlackBerry break so they can feed their addiction, or we can stop at the scheduled breaks (about every two hours).
So I was interested to read Matt Richtel's article in the NY Times Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. The article discusses the effects of constantly multi-tasking the information that comes to us in an endless stream on our various gadgets:
At the organization design training program I've been facilitating this week there's been lots of discussion on the politics of organization design. One person described at some length the blocking behavior of one the senior people and the difficulties in moving the work forward in this situation. He was looking for suggestions in how to work with people who were passive aggressive, confrontational, and plain stubborn.
Similar situations people talked about related to managers intent on changing the organization chart relationships without thinking of the consequences and impact on other elements of the organization. They built on the list of blocking behaviors including refusal to listen or discuss, pulling rank (the client/manager saying 'this is what we're going to do'), and discounting alternatives.
When Disney acquired Pixar, in January 2006, Robert Iger, CEO of Disney, agreed to an explicit list of guidelines for protecting Pixar's creative culture. For instance, Pixar employees were able to keep their relatively plentiful health benefits and were not forced to sign employment contracts. He even stipulated that the sign on Pixar's front gate would remain unchanged.
Two years after the acquisition some analysts
were surprised that it was working successfully:
How Disney and Pixar are making the integration work holds lessons for other executives faced with the delicate task of uniting two cultures. Tactics that have served the companies well include the obvious, like communicating changes to employees effectively. Other decisions, including drawing up an explicit map of what elements of Pixar would not change, have been more unusual.
I see in this morning's Financial Times the headline 'Cultural failings leave BP engulfed'. Instantly I'm attracted to it to see if it would have been a useful case study to put in my new book. (It's too late now as yesterday it went to print. It's the Economist Guide to Organisation Culture and is coming out in mid-July). The piece opens with:
"In the storm of public and political fury that has hit BP in the US since the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20, the company's shortage of native knowledge of America and how it responds to crisis has been painfully exposed."
OK so I do cover the difficulties companies have in moving into new (for them) countries. The concepts of cultural fluency at an individual and organizational level are discussed. There are lots of examples of companies pulling out of countries that they didn't understand the culture of: Walmart leaving Germany is one, IKEA leaving Japan is another (although IKEA is now having a second go at Japan hopefully having learned some lessons).
On Friday I went to see the movie Office Space. Either it didn't come out in the UK or I missed it but here in the US it seems as if every office worker has seen either it or the Milton animated shorts on which it is based, a zillion times.
The film follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a software engineer cubicle dweller at Initech. He has a frustrating commute, normally tiresome coworkers, an inane boss and a girlfriend that he's pretty sure is cheating on him. The bright spots in his life are his two friends at work, his neighbor, and the waitress at the local café.
This is yet another in the genre of Up in the Air, State of Play, and Outsourced all of which I've seen in the last year and all of which look at the idiocies and difficulties of organizational life. I guess that a film showing people enjoying their work, with good bosses, in pleasant environments wouldn't be a crowd drawer. But the fact that these films and related TV programs (Back to the Floor, Undercover Boss) and Dilbert (and Alex in the UK) cartoons are so popular is that office or work life really is as depicted for many people. Who hasn't been involved in a conversation like this one at some point?
Business Week has a special report on The Value of Design (February 1 2010). It "takes a closer look at how design can impact the bottom line of businesses in any industry
"attempting "to pick apart the issue a little further, with opinion pieces on the value of design from those within and outside the profession. IDEO partner Diego Rodriguez makes the case that good business arises from a design-centric process that incorporates marketing, research, and ideas. RKS Design's Ravi Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad http://rksdesign.com/blog/index.php/what_we_think/ outline four specific areas in which design can create value: understanding the consumer; mitigating risk; boosting marketing and branding; and driving sustainable business practices."
The section I read first was the RKS piece on the role of design in business: about which more and more is being written as the boundaries between architects, product designers, and organization designers are blurring. Which brought to mind the work of The US General Services Administration.
Someone just lent me a book by Donald A Norman called Things that Make us Smart . The Library Journal review of it on Amazon says that
By virtue of their design, machines shape the way we relate to the world. Moreover--as anyone who has been annoyed by voice message systems can testify - many technological "advances" that are efficient from the engineering point of view are of dubious value to those who must use them.
Although I saw it was written more than 15 years ago, it's a book that immediately appealed because today a) I tried twice to make a call to Carefirst, a healthcare provider, and the machine did not recognize a British accent as I said the numbers of my ID. For some unknown reason it also didn't recognize them when I punched them into my phone. Additionally I was on hold for 26 minutes the first time with a machine voice repeatedly telling me how to avoid allergies by washing my bed linen, and keeping my pets inside. At minute 27 I hung up. I tried again later and after being on hold - this time for 32 minutes a human voice was heard.
Science Daily posted a research report last week titled Consumer Remorse: Difficult Choices Can Lead to Second-Guessing.
This found that "Consumers who choose between two good product options build a "positivity bubble" to justify their choices. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, that bubble is easy to burst."
"From routine cereal-aisle shopping to expensive big-ticket purchases, consumers are often free to choose among many similarly attractive options," write authors Ab Litt and Zakary L. Tormala (Stanford University). "In these contexts, it can be difficult to resolve one's preferences to arrive at a purchasing decision."
Multicultural team members tend to have different cultural rules for relationship building and communication. This leads them to have to collectively find a way of giving themselves a vehicle for exploring rules of own social orders. (To create a new culture)
This exercise asks team members to suspend their cultural assumptions in order to build a team culture of trust. A culture of trust will foster relationships where good and effective communication can happen and a person's value is affirmed: where the value she/he places on him/herself is ratified and confirmed through a process of mutual reinforcement. (Society built around relationships of sustaining each other and compliments are one vehicle that give people 'face').
Edgar Schein presented the opening session of the 2010 Organization Design Forum Conference, currently running in Denver. His topic was the structure/process dilemma in organization design. Refreshingly he started off by saying that when he was thinking about his presentation he asked himself the question: "What are my biases that might be of some use to people thinking about this topic?"
It turns out that he is biased towards thinking about process first and structure more or less last in an organization design: a view that I share but have yet to find the majority of line managers sharing. All too often (a blanket generalization) they equate organization design with fiddling with the boxes on an organization chart.
One of the case studies in my forthcoming book on organization culture (due out in July 2010) is on Toyota. I wrote it last December before the news broke of the recalls. Back then, in what now seems a 'hurrah for self' prescient moment I wondered whether the company would survive or die - mainly because the research I'd been doing on strong cultures suggested that too strong a culture had, in effect, built-in blinkers. The assumptions and norms around the ways of doing things - even when they were, as in Toyota's case, aimed at reducing errors and maintaining quality seemed to stop people from seeing patterns and trends that didn't fit on their 'radar screen'.
Gary Klein, in his book Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, remarks on a phenomenon in relation to decisions that result in an undesirable outcome. He talks about three categories of decision making that resulted in error:
The role of an organization development consultant sometimes seems on a par with that of a marriage guidance counselor. Both are brought in sometimes as mediators, sometimes as advisors, sometimes as therapists (although this last requires specialist training), to help parties resolve issues that they cannot handle alone.
In organizational development work the interests center on power and politics - at an organizational, business unit, team and/or individual level. Tussles between head office and field offices are common, in departmental mergers or downsizing managers fight to protect their turf, personality clashes occur between individuals that get in the way of a smooth work flow, and so on.
The phrase "good design is cheap, bad design is expensive" came up again in an organization design training course I was facilitating yesterday. One of the delegates took issue with the connotation of good design being 'cheap'. He offered an amendment to the phrase, suggesting "Good design can cost a lot. Bad design will cost a lot." Other delegates agreed with the amendment - so there it stands and the following story illustrates:
One delegate told the story of a newly designed and built elementary school, where lunches for the children were prepared on site. Some of the design faults they were contending with because architects had not consulted with stakeholders in the meal preparation process included:
Standing in the checkout line in a supermarket the other day, I witnessed an interaction between two till operators. One didn't know how to complete a transaction and was asking the other for help. The second one did help but in an accusing way, calling the first employee a "silly cow" and asking why she was put on the till when she didn't know how to make a simple transaction.
A third employee stepped in and pointed out that it was an unusual type of transaction and the first employee was fairly new on the job. That whole incident set me wondering about the effect of this kind of incident on all involved.
Richard Seymour, of SeymourPowell speaking on Day Two of the Big Rethink Conference (The Redesigning Business Summit) was interesting on the connection between anthropology and design. He made the point that 'what we say and what we do are often different', a fairly obvious fact, but he noted that it is observing these disconnects that make for good design information. He is of the view that taking the stance of an anthropologist and closely watching what is going on is the way to approach design. "Anthropology is before technology" is one of the phrases he used. Another sound bite of his that caught my attention is that "the future is in emergent behavior" (relating back to the anthropology). I'm not sure what 'emergent behavior' is. How does it differ from behavior?
He showed a video clip of people trying to open a packet of frozen peas - ultimately attacking the poorly designed packaging with a pair of scissors. The mantra around this: "Fix things that are bust." This seems obvious when you watch the packet of peas scenario - and these actions that he mentioned: watching for disconnects, looking at behaviors, and fixing things that are bust, used in his case in relation to product design - are also applicable to organization design.
On Saturday I went to see the Oscar Short Films (Live Action) nominations. There are five in this category. The sequence started with the showing of Kavi that tells the story of an Indian boy and his parents who are forced to work as slave labor in a brick kiln. It was very hard to watch and in a sense is a story everyone knows about. The movie site is well worth looking at as it, and the film, is a vocal advocate of ending slavery - making the point that:
"Today, slavery is illegal almost everywhere, yet it continues to flourish. Bonded labor, a form of slavery, often occurs when people are tricked into taking loans from creditors who have no intention of letting them repay the loan. The creditor then uses violent intimidation to keep his workers slaving with no hope of escape."
Architects and interior designers traditionally work with company facility managers to upgrade or redesign the physical working environment. The physical environment is rarely discussed in this context and by these practitioners as integral to the organization's business model, the delivery of its strategy, and as a component of the design of whole organizational system.
This is a missed opportunity. The physical environment is a reflector of the culture, values, and preoccupations of the organizational members. The corner office, for example, is the prime example of a physical space status symbol, reflecting positional power. The choices of marble, wood, or other surfaces give clues on organizational values - lavish use of hardwood might be at odds with corporate statements about sustainability - and on the industry sector (the reception area of a hospital is very different from the reception area of a bank).
Organization design as Galbraith, Nadeler, and others looking at organization design from a business operations perspective have not traditionally included the physical space that people work in as contributing much to the delivery of the business strategy. Space configuration and physical environment is generally seen as part of the facility management responsibility. More often than not space is seen as a necessary cost not a way to positively invest in employee productivity, motivation, and morale.
However, there's a gradual shift going on and it seems that the connections between design/architecture and people's responses to it in a business setting are moving up the organization design agenda. Take a look at the work going on at the New School of Architecture and Design, Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture. http://www.newschoolarch.edu/
"The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture supports studies, workshops, and university-based educational programs designed to explore research that "bridges" neuroscience with architecture. It is the first such institution in the world to link neuroscience, one of the newest frontiers of knowledge, with architecture, one of the oldest disciplines of human civilization."